"We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read." - Jules Verne
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Monday, June 27, 2016

NOT JUST ANOTHER WAR STORY (audiobook) by Wayne G. MacDowell

Originally published in October of 2014.
Audiobook published in February of 2016
Read by Tom Lennon
Duration: 18 hours, 24 minutes

I have read or listened to a few books about the experiences of fighter and bomber pilots in World War II and those books drew me to this one.

The book's main character is Steve Carmichael. Steve grew up on a ranch near Orlando, Florida and was a baseball player at the University of Florida.  The Detroit Tigers are interested in him but, a
s a kid he learned how to fly a rattletrap biplane that his father purchased for a song and refurbished and Steve decides to join the Army Air Corps as a pilot.

He becomes a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot and is shipped off to England in 1943. The story follows his original crew that all trained together as they try to work their way through their required 30 missions. The descriptions of everything to do with the airplanes and the combat missions in this book are absolutely excellent. I felt like I was riding along with the crew and I was invested in those characters.

But, this book is bogged down by so much pointless detail when they are not in the airplanes that it became a chore to listen to. In a print book you can easily skim over excessive description of breakfast after breakfast after breakfast (the level of detail gets down to the jelly that everyone had on their toast at the table) but you can't skim in an audiobook.

 Uneventful trips are described in detail. Rather than saying something like "and they made it back to the hotel, had a nightcap and went to bed" you get 5 minutes of description of the car, the hotel lobby, the alcohol and a discussion of why everyone is tired. The reader knows why they are tired - we just read about it (or heard about it, in my case).
Rick Steves

It is clear that MacDowell did an extraordinary amount of research for this book and that is nothing but commedable. However, the non-combat scenes tried my patience because it felt like MacDowell was trying to incorporate EVERYTHING he learned about the various locales into the book. Every time a character encounters a new town, a new building or, sometimes, even a new room the reader gets an extensive history lesson (this church/town/castle was built in....burned down in...and re-built in...). It was like Rick Steves from the PBS travel show was trying to tell me a war story and give me a tour of London at the same time.

A decent editor could knock 3 or 4 hours from this story and made it nothing but better. As philosopher Blaise Pascal stated in a 1657 letter, "I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter." 

Tom Lennon read this audiobook. There were a wide variety of accents to be mastered for this book and his Belgian, French, German, southern and Maine accents were excellent. Any complaints I have about the audiobook are not the fault of the reader.

I rate this audiobook 3 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: Not Just Another War Story.

Note: I was provided a copy of this audiobook so that I could provide an honest review.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

BY FREEDOM'S LIGHT by Elizabeth O'Maley

Set in Eastern Indiana in 1842, this short novel does a great job of talking about slavery for a grades 4-6 audience.

The Caldwell family has recently moved to Indiana from North Carolina. They are Quakers. Nowadays, Quakers are famous for their anti-slavery stand and participation in the Underground Railroad in the 1800s. But, in reality, the Quakers are split in two groups. All are anti-slavery but some believe that you should not break the law by helping runaway slaves. Others believe that helping people in need trumps the law.

The Caldwell family embodies this split. Sarah, age 13, is anti-abolitionist and is quite sure her father is as well. However, her new young stepmother is certainly an abolitionist. She is close with Levi and Catharine Coffin, two of the most famous members of the Underground Railroad network who live in Newport, Indiana (now called Fountain City) and Sarah witnesses her helping a runaway slave. Sarah is sure that her father is anti-abolitionist and throughout the book seeks an opportunity to discuss her stepmothers abolitionist ways with him.

In the middle of this family dynamic comes Sarah's sister, Rachel, with her husband and newborn baby. They bring along the baby's nursemaid, a teenage slave named Polly.

The Levi Coffin House. Nowadays it is a museum and
a historic site.
As Sarah and Polly come to know one another they also become friends. Sarah's theoretical views on slavery crash into the reality that her friend is a slave and does not control her own life. Her mother-in-law's comment strikes home when she notes, "I don't doubt Rachel and George treat her kindly...but kindness is no substitute for freedom." (p. 70)

What I like about this book is that teaches without being preachy. My daughter's fourth grade teacher used this book in her Indiana history class this year and I can certainly see why. You can move into the topic of slavery from a non-traditional starting point (which you would have to do in Indiana since it was a free state) and easily talk about larger issues like what do you do if doing the right thing is illegal?

The text of the book is 172 pages, including pictures and maps. In addition, the book also has a glossary and a bibliography.

I rate this novel 5 stars out of 5 stars.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: By Freedom's Light.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

ODD THOMAS by Dean Koontz

Originally published in 2003

Coke vs. Pepsi. Kleenex vs. Puffs. McDonald's vs. Burger King.

Stephen King vs. Dean Koontz. 

There is a "name brand" that defines almost every field. Let's face it, in the literary world, Stephen King is the master of the horror field. Dean Koontz is clearly the second place guy, but he is second place. I have followed that pattern in my own reading. I have easily read two dozen Stephen King books and perhaps ten Dean Koontz books. Nothing wrong with Dean Koontz, just like there's nothing wrong with Pepsi, Puffs or Burger King.

I was aware of the Odd Thomas series - they're in all of the book stores and the name certainly gets your attention. But, I never was tempted to pick the first one up and get started until last week.

Odd Thomas is a twenty year old resident of Pico Mundo, a suburban town in the Southern California desert. Odd (yes, that's his real name) certainly lives up to his name. He is a gentle soul that has a few very, very close friends of all ages. He works as a fry cook, aspires to sell tires and lives for his girlfriend who works at the ice cream stand in the mall. Oh, he also talks to Elvis Presley's ghost on a regular basis.

You see, Odd Thomas sees spirits. He sees ghosts that refuse to move onto to whatever comes after this life. He sees evil spirits. He can find people with a skill he calls "psychic magnetism". He can speak with the ghosts but he can't hear them - it would be crazy to think that you can hear ghosts.

Odd is a gentle soul and takes great care to never use his powers for gain. He was raised by selfish adults but, luckily, he learned from them that the world needs more people that give. Only a few people really understand what he can do and those people watch out for him and worry over him because Odd's unique set of skills often lead him to very dangerous places...

Clearly, with this first book Dean Koontz was building a world for Odd Thomas to inhabit. There is plenty of room for stories about Odd's family, his relationship with the local author, with the police chief that he thinks of as a father figure and even Elvis Presley.

Will I go on and explore Odd's world even more? I am not sure. Odd is likable and sympathetic, especially with the end that surprised me. Who knows, maybe it's time to do a little Dean Koontz binge reading because sometimes the second banana can come up with something unique and clever and steal some thunder from the "name brand" and make them worth another look.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Odd Thomas.

Monday, June 13, 2016

THE COMFORT of BLACK (audiobook) by Carter Wilson

Audio version released in January of 2016 by LLC Cherry Publishing.
Originally published by Oceanview Publishing in August of 2015.

Read by Rebecca Roberts
Duration: 9 hours, 21 minutes

Hannah Parks is a survivor. She grew up in an incredibly verbally abusive home and watched her mother be physically abused by her father on a regular basis. But, one day, she fought back and now her father is in jail and she is married to a tech genius whose start-up has become a major corporation.

But, Hannah and her husband have been growing apart. When she hears him dreaming about raping a woman and discovers a secret porn file on his computer she confronts him only to have him fly into a violent rage. She leaves him only to have him try to kidnap her.

But, a man named Black intervenes. A man she doesn't even know kidnaps her away from the kidnappers and now Hannah's life really starts to disintegrate...

If you love a book with a lot of plot twists, well this is your book. Personally, I thought the book had so many plot twists that it got to the point of ridiculousness and I hung around to the very end just to see how ridiculous it got. The answer? Extremely.

For me, a couple of plot twists are fine. For example, in the entire original Star Wars trilogy (Episodes IV to VI) there is really just one big plot twist - Darth Vader's true identity. 6 hours of movie, 700 pages of novelization - one big plot twist.

This book had plot twist after plot twist after plot twist and it just got old. Was anything in this book as it seemed? Some may think it clever. I think it is a one trick pony act - the story gets a bit stale - throw in a plot twist to shake everything back up again. Her husband is not the man she thought he was. Her rescuer is not the man she thought he was. Hannah is not who she thought she was. And so on and so on and so on.

I won't reveal any more than that because maybe this sounds like something you would like but it sure wasn't my style.

I listened to this as an audiobook and Rebecca Roberts did an excellent job as the reader. I listen to a lot of audiobooks and I am sure I have not run across her before. I am equally sure that she will become a popular choice for authors and publishers - she was the bright spot as a I listened to this audiobook.

Note: I received a free copy of this audiobook for review purposes.

I rate this audiobook 2 stars out of 5.

This audiobook can be found on Amazon.com here: The Comfort of Black.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

BADLANDS: A NOVEL (Cassie Dewell #3) by C.J. Box

Published in July of 2015

Cassie Dewell was the lead character in 2013's The Highway, a gritty novel with a truly creepy bad guy. Dewell is a young widow who lives with her wacky mother and her son. Dewell makes the move from Wyoming to North Dakota in this book. This is a good move by all accounts - there is a substantial raise, a promotion in rank and it lets Dewell get out of a bad work situation detailed in The Highway.
A fracking operation in North Dakota. Photo by Joshua Doubek.

Grimstad, North Dakota is in the center of the new oil boom. Thanks to "fracking",  it exploded from a little farm town to one of the fastest growing economic centers in the world. It has become the kind of town where anyone can get a job but no one can get a place to sleep and you have to wait for half an hour just to order at the local McDonald's.

The local sheriff has a problem. He knows that gangs are moving in to sell drugs and run prostitutes and he's pretty sure that one of his deputies is helping them. But, he can't be sure because he barely knows his police force. He's and old hand and so are a couple of his deputies but most of them have been hired from all over the country as the oil boom hit town.

On top of that, Dewell is involved in an ongoing investigation into the kidnappings, rapes and murders involving a long haul trucker from the last book. 

I thought this was a fascinating book. The reality of a modern oil boom town was simply fascinating. Cassie's ongoing pursuit of the Lizard King continues to add a sense of foreboding to the series.

I rate this book 5 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Badlands: A Novel.

RECKLESS (Ty Hauck #3) by Andrew Gross

Slow Going At First.

Published in 2010.

For a book that is all about how quickly the world's stock markets can be played by a few bad actors who don't particularly care about making money so much as they care about wreaking havoc, this book took a very long time to get started.

Part of that is my fault. I failed to realize that I was in the middle of a series until after I had read this book. I had read the second installment in this series 7 years ago but I literally remembered nothing about the main character, Ty Hauck.

In this installment, Hauck is in the suburbs of New York City. He is working for a corporation as a security consultant, meaning he investigates people the company may work with and gets involved with internet breaches and the like. Hauck's company is investigating an big-time investor with a hidden past. But, Hauck has a personal connection to the murders of a Wall Street broker and his family and soon finds a connection to a third murder that ties in all three investigations. But, is his company interested in what he finds? Is anyone?

The book is set in the midst of the Wall Street collapse in 2008 that kicked off the Great Recession. Gross does a great job of folding in his fictional companies with the big names that were at the heart of the mess. He also demonstrates one of the ways our economy is vulnerable to foreign manipulation, an idea laid out very clearly in Kevin Freeman's non-fiction book Secret Weapon.

Unfortunately, this book takes a solid 150 pages to really get moving. Once it gets going it is quite the rocket ship, but those first pages are a bit of a slog.

I rate this book 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Reckless.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

PIRATE LATITUDES by Michael Crichton

Published in 2009.

The year is 1665 and the English colony of Jamaica is surrounded by a constellation of Spanish colonies. The Caribbean is in a near-perpetual state of war as English privateers attack Spanish treasure galleons hauling literally tons of New World silver and gold to Spain.

Charles Hunter is the captain of an English privateer ship named Cassandra (or, he is simply a pirate when Spain and England are not at war). He has learned that Spain has a fortress on a remote island called Matanceros to protect ships that attempt, but fail to make the trip to Spain. They cannot return to their port of origin alone. In fact, the less time they are alone and exposed to privateers, the better. So, Spain has built an impregnable fortress to protect such ships. 

Michael Crichton (1942-2008)

At least it is supposed to be impregnable. Hunter is very sure that he has figured out a way that the perfect team can infiltrate the fort and then take the ship that it is supposed to protect. And, he has just learned that a ship full of treasure has taken refuge in the bay at Matanceros - just waiting for him to come and take it....

After Michael Crichton passed away in 2008 this completed and previously unknown book was found on his computer. This novel is a complete story but it is just feels like it was just not done. Parts of it hum along and feel like a Crichton story. There is intensity, science, and mystery. For example, the hurricane scene and the cannon scene and the abandoned island. Those scenes are all together and they feel like they have been worked over with a lot of care. Other scenes, such as the last few chapters, feel like a first or second draft. This makes for an uneven read, which really can't be helped. Crichton fans will want to read the book but they will wonder how truly great this short novel could have been if he had only had the time to really finish it.

I rate this novel 3 stars out of 5.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: Pirate Latitudes.